Collecting Delaware Books
First published in Collecting Delaware Books in October 1994. Updated 2006.
Few Delaware books get so much interest from collectors and so little interest from scholars as Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware published in two volumes by J.M.Runk & Co. of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in 1899.
Runk's, as it is usually called, was strictly a commercial product. Biographies were solicited from prominent Delawareans, who probably paid to have them included and then paid again for a copy of the book.
An 80-page history of Delaware is followed over 1,300 pages of biographies. They are not in alphabetical order, and the index contains some errors. There are many portraits, some steel engravings and some photo-engravings. The biographies are followed by about 100 pages of town and city histories and geographies.
It is a handsome publication in its dark cloth and red half-leather binding. The spines are stamped in gold. The front boards have an elaborately scrolled title impressed in gold. The back boards are similarly impressed but lack the gold. The edges are gilt also. The two volumes have a total thickness of five inches.
In addition to its beauty and collector's value, Runk's can be a useful source for historians and genealogists. Any researcher who spends a few hours browsing the volumes and learning what is there may well find the time repaid during some future investigation. Here is just a sampler to give you the flavor.
Ferris (1780-1867) was one of Delaware's earliest literary figures. In 1821 and 1822, using the nom de plume "Amicus," he engaged in a religious controversy through a series of letters exchanged with the reverend Dr. Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert (1793-1853) and published in the religious periodical Christian Repository. The letters were collected and published in 1823 in a book of 512 pages titled Letters of Paul and Amicus.
He also wrote A History of the Original Settlements on the Delaware (1846), the first real history of our state.
The biography of Ferris in Runk's is fairly brief, but genealogical details about his ancestors, siblings, and descendants are copious. There are many references to other genealogies, as well.
One of the best biographies of Francis Vincent (1822-1884) is found in Runk's. At the age of 23, Vincent founded a newspaper, The Blue Hen's Chicken. Within three months it had gained the largest circulation of any paper in Wilmington by reporting on local happenings rather than merely extracting national news from big city papers. Having become an important force in the state, the paper successfully advocated many reform measures.
Vincent was opposed to slavery and spoke out so loudly he made enemies in slave states. In 1850, one Maryland judge declared from the bench that anyone taking the paper at the post office was liable to imprisonment.
In 1854, Vincent sold the paper and helped to organize the Republican Party in Delaware. In 1861, he reentered the newspaper business. Shortly thereafter he ran for local political office and remained in government the rest of his life.
Francis Vincent is the author of A History of the State of Delaware (1870). He issued it in parts. When it proved to be not profitable, he discontinued publication, so the history only covers the years 1600 to 1775. Copies of these parts, bound into a book, are fairly common and sought by collectors.
Delaware (and Maryland) war correspondent, political writer, poet, novelist, and short story writer George Alfred ("Gath") Townsend's biography occupies a page and a half in Runk. Townsend was born in 1841 in Georgetown, Delaware, and lived until 1914, well after Runk was published. (A biography and checklist of his works was carried in the April 1993 issue of Collecting Delaware Books.) The Runk article provides details of Gath's ancestry. It also tells, perhaps for the first time, of him dictating up to 12,000 words a day of newspaper copy to a ring of stenographers.
Judge Conrad (1852-1930) is another important figure who lived long after Runk was published. Delaware collector's know him best for his 1908 three-volume History of the State of Delaware, but he authored many other publications in the later years of his life. The biography in Runk is valuable for the picture it gives of Conrad's early career. He was an accomplished orator, successful Republican politician, editor for a year of Wilmington's Morning News, and a leading Methodist layman.
The bearer of this intriguing name was born at Delamore Place near Wilmington, Delaware, in 1838. He was named in honor of two ancestors — the reverend Samuel Davis, who was minister of the first Presbyterian church in Lewes about 1692, and Captain Samuel Davis, defender of Lewes during the March 1813 bombardment. Captain Davis's career is a fascinating one: he served for many years as a French naval officer before returning to military service in the United States.
The articles on Delaware communities are interesting for their lists of landowners and businesses as well as the narrative descriptions.
Red Lion is described as a small but thriving village about six miles from New Castle and a mile from Bear Station, having one church, the Methodist Episcopal, and surrounded by grain, vegetable, and small fruit farms. That description almost fits today.
Wyoming is said to be the largest peach shipping station in the state and an energetic and prosperous place. The town also had a canning factory, employing 150 hands, and large flour and grist mills.
Rehoboth, Runk tells us, is a watering place of considerable importance on the Atlantic coast. The population is inconsiderable during the winter, but in summer the transient guests at the hotels and cottages swell it to a place of over 1,000 inhabitants. The place is owned and controlled by the Methodist Rehoboth Beach Camp, who have beautiful grounds for camping situated at the railroad station.
Runk also describes many localities with names that are hardly heard today, like Union and Deakynville in New Castle County, Cowgill and Hollandville in Kent County, and Oakel and Scotts in Sussex County.
There are a number of little extra's in Runk's. On page 1,413, for example, is a long poem in dialect by well-known Delaware poet George B. Hynson, titled "In Good Old Sussex County." There are also lyrics for a song "Our Delaware," to be sung to the tune of "My Maryland." (It is not the same "Our Delaware" mentioned on page 5 of this issue of Collecting Delaware Books.) These words are found below.
Words by Joshua Pusey, Esq.
To the tune "My Maryland"
1 Our little State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Now, brothers all, let none forbear! Sing, "Delaware, our Delaware!" Proud offspring of the azure bird, With swelling tones our hearts be stirred, And loud our praiseful song be heard: "Delaware, our Delaware!" 2 Our beloved State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Can she be equalled anywhere? Delaware, our Delaware! Fill high the cup with draught divine, Not potion brought from foreign clime— But deeply drink old Brandywine To Delaware, our Delaware! 3 Our knightly State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Of courtly men and ladies fair Beyond compare— our Delaware! Where love on beauty ever waits, Where brother help ne'er hesitates— The diamond in the crown of States! Delaware, our Delaware! 4 Our precious State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Her fields nor gold nor silver bear, Delaware, our Delaware! But flower and peach and golden corn O'erflowing Plenty's bounteous horn, Are jewels "to the manor born" In Delaware, our Delaware! 5 Our glorious State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Of Rodney, Clayton, Bayard rare, Delaware, our Delaware! A land of true historic pride, And land where heroes lived and died, Their country loved, her foes defied— Delaware, our Delaware! 6 Our freeborn State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! She's ever loved sweet Freedom's air, Delaware, our Delaware! Since Swedish tongue her land bespoke, Since Holland's guns her echoes woke, Since came Britannia's hearts of oak— Delaware, our Delaware! 7 Our noble State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Our thoughts are ever turning there, Delaware, our Delaware! Where men are of heroic mould, Where duty leads— not sinful gold, Where mem'ries cluster 'round the old, In Delaware, our Delaware! 8 Our loyal State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! Thy watchword be: "To do and dare," Delaware, our Delaware! Our gentle peace be evermore, Or Honor loose the dogs of war, Let manly virtues guard thy door, Delaware, our Delaware! 9 Our little State of Delaware, Delaware, our Delaware! O God! forever be thy care, Delaware, our Delaware! From good old Sussex' farthest lea, From bright Henlopen's sparkling sea, To the arch of her northern boundary, Delaware, our Delaware!
Source of song lyrics: Runk's Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, published 1899, page 63. Said to have been written by Civil War veteran Joshua Pusey, born 1842. It was sung at every meeting of the "Sons of Delaware" and was the club's song. There is a biography of Pusey starting on page 181 of Runk's.
One problem with Runk's is its lack of a complete index. In 1998 Genealogical Abstracts from Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware by Bill and Martha Reamy was published. It includes mostly genealogical material and has a complete index in a 629-page paper bound single volume. At present it is available from Heritage Books, Inc. for $59.50.